Wednesday 17 July 2019

The Seabourn Supremacy: A small luxury cruise with a big difference

Nicola Brady swims with sea turtles, drinks in Mick Jagger’s local and hears music to cry for on a luxurious cruise...

Docking at Philipsburg on the island of Sint Maarten
Docking at Philipsburg on the island of Sint Maarten
Space to relax on the Seabourn Odyssey
The Seabourn Odyssey's top deck pool
The Seabourn Odyssey's spa
Toby Boas with two waiters
The beach at Belmond La Samanna

Nicola Brady

Toby Boas is 89 years old.

Though she loves the ocean, a back injury means that she can’t remember the last time she was able to swim in it. Until today, that is.

I’m flopped on a sun lounger on the island of St Kitts, a freshly cracked coconut in my hand. A few feet away from me, water the colour of Cillian Murphy’s eyes laps at the powder soft sand. Just as I’m beginning to melt into a puddle of tropical bliss, I overhear a woman asking one of the crew if she can get a little help with her mother. Out of pure nosiness, I watch as they walk to where Toby stands, gripping her Zimmer frame on the uneven sand.

I don’t know if they’ll need my help, so I sit and watch as this woman discards her walker and grasps the arms of two crew members standing tightly on either side. Her daughter Bette walks just in front, her back to the sea, arms outstretched and poised to help should two burly guys not be enough. With firm grip, they help Toby walk into the ocean until the water reaches her chin.

Against all odds, she’s in the water. The grins on their faces radiate more warmth than the midday Caribbean sun. It’s enough to penetrate even my cold little heart.   

In a wonderful turn of serendipity, the two women are my dinner companions later that evening. As I say hello, Toby grips my arm and tells me all about her moment.

“I wanted so much to get in the ocean. My God, it felt amazing,” she says, her eyes gleaming. “I’ve got some daughter.”

I later learn that Toby’s only request had been for the men helping her to be handsome. And, as it turns out, our waiter Djordje was one of those two good-looking men who helped her into the sea that morning. Except it wasn’t so much a coincidence, rather a perfect example of the hands-on, always-attentive Seabourn experience.

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The Seabourn Odyssey's top deck pool

I’m sailing the Caribbean on the Seabourn Odyssey, a small, super-swish ship that can take a maximum of 458 guests. That’s the perfect number, if you ask me — large enough so you’re not stuck seeing the same faces every day, but small enough that you don’t feel like you’re sailing on one of those gargantuan monster ships.

The best part? A ship this size can pitch up at little islands the big ones simply cannot reach. Over the course of the week, we stop at (deep breath) St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, Bequia and Barbados.

Almost every day, we anchor a little offshore, then zoom off to that day’s dock on bright orange boats. When I wake each morning and draw back the curtains, I’m met with a different sight beyond my balcony, from the wildly luscious peaks of Guadeloupe to the rolling Bequia hills dotted with pastel-hued houses.

It’s only on my third morning that I realise the room service breakfast comes delivered (for free) to this very balcony, with silver cloches, starched tablecloths and a crew member adjusting my cutlery so everything is arranged just so, as I wait impatiently in my pyjamas.    

My grand plan to avoid gaining the dreaded cruise poundage is almost instantly forgotten because, my goodness, the food on board is incredible (and I, of course, don’t set foot in the on-board gym). You can get top notch caviar at every bar. Order a thyme gimlet and a tray of canapés will likely arrive soon after, with nibbles of blushing seared tuna or blinis with smoked salmon. I eat slivers of rare sirloin at the side of the pool, as chimichurri drizzles down my chin. If that ain’t class, I don’t know what is.

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Space to relax on the Seabourn Odyssey

There are four restaurants on board, and not a dud among them. The highlight is The Grill by Thomas Keller, the only spot you’ll need to book (though all passengers are guaranteed one sitting, so there’s no need to panic). This American steak joint comes from the chef behind French Laundry in Napa, one of America’s few three-starred Michelin restaurants.

There’s a certain kind of joy that comes with ordering with greedy abandon, without looking at the prices on a menu — we ask for an extra dish of lobster mac and cheese for the table, and while I was only joking about ordering another steak for dessert, the waiter insisted that it could be done (I went for Keller’s classic hot fudge sundae instead).

Another bonus for Seabourn? Everyone on board is on the same package. There are no irritating drinks packages to buy, no geeky wristbands to wear, no restaurants to avoid, because practically everything is included in your stay (unless you want a particularly jazzy bottle of wine, or spa treatment). That means decent champagne whenever you wish, without the fear of getting lumbered with an extra stonker of a bill when you disembark.

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Toby Boas with two waiters

There are downsides, of course. The entertainment doesn’t always hit the mark — I find the comedian, with his jokes about prostates and bitching wives, to be outdated and cringey. But while I was initially doubtful about the musical performances, they honestly blow me away. Seabourn has teamed up with Tim Rice, so there’s a show made up of his greatest hits, with performances so powerful, I end up having a little cry in my seat. That happens again when cruise director Chelsea Coyne sings an operatic/Les Miserables set on the final night, and I bawl like a baby (incidentally, this is when I’m eating that poolside steak, so I don’t cut a pretty sight). 

But as homely as the ship is, you don’t fly all this way to lounge at the side of the pool eating gelato. Over the course of the week, I paddle in the waters of Iles des Saintes on a clear-bottomed kayak. I snorkel alone among hoards of sea turtles just a few feet from the shore in Mustique, before sinking a beer in Mick Jagger’s local, Basil’s Bar. I mountain bike in the rainforests of St Lucia, where I am forced to face a lifelong fear when a boa constrictor falls from the trees over our heads and crashes to the ground, taking a good 10 years off my life in the process.

Later, I tell Toby Boas about my brush with death (along with every single other person who crosses my path).

“Well, you oughta watch out for me too because they call me the Boas Constrictor!” she says as she wraps me in a giant hug. It takes every ounce of strength I have not to insist she adopt me on the spot.

Three top tips

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The Seabourn Odyssey's spa
 

Book ahead

If your heart is set on a particular excursion, book before you set off to secure a spot. But you might want to just explore the island on your own steam or lounge on the beach.

Log in

Log into the guest services site before you set off so you can set preferences for your complimentary minibar and even select your preferred plumpness of pillow. Nice.

Hot tub

On Deck 6, there’s a hot tub barely used by the other guests. Throw on your fluffy robe and head out as the sun sets and the ship drifts on to the next location.

Get there

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The beach at Belmond La Samanna

Seabourn’s 7-day Classic Yachtsman Caribbean itinerary starts from €2,262pp sharing a veranda suite with gratuities, meals and drinks (except premium wine and spirits); see seabourn.com. Fly to St Martin with Air France via Paris, from €677; see airfrance.ie. Nicola was a guest of Seabourn.

Stay over

If you’re looking to spend a night or two in St Martin before you set sail, try the newly re-opened Belmond La Samanna. Rates from €535; belmond.com/lasamanna.

What to pack

Cruise ships are nowhere near as formal as they used to be, but there is a dress code after 6pm — men will need a shirt and jacket and trousers, and neither jeans nor shorts will cut it for dinner. Bring something fancy if you want to join in the formal dinner.

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